DALLAS – Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday signed a bill creating a new university and medical school in South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley by merging two existing University of Texas branches.

The University of Texas Pan American in Harlingen and the University of Texas at Brownsville will have access to the state’s Permanent University Fund for operating revenues and the ability to issue triple-A bonds under Senate Bill 24.

“This new university will be a beacon of opportunity, innovation and potential in the Valley, telling the story of the ongoing promise of the 21st Century and the growing role South Texas will play in our future,” Perry said in a ceremony with the university presidents and UT System chairman Gene Powell.

The $13.9 billion PUF is a public endowment contributing to the support of institutions of The University of Texas System and the Texas A&M University System. Both systems are authorized to issue bonds backed by the PUF guarantee, providing triple-A bond ratings.

The newly merged university will be immediately competitive with current UT emerging research universities, according to state officials. It is predicted to have a student population of 28,000, research expenditures exceeding $11 million, and an endowment of $70.5 million.

With the new medical school, UT plans to increase graduate medical residents to 150 per year and place them in hospitals in Brownsville, Edinburg, Harlingen, and McAllen. Expanding access to medical education and residency slots is designed to help resolve the critical healthcare problems of the Rio Grande Valley, designated as a medically underserved area with a severe physician shortage and limited resources.

In Texas, there are 165 doctors for every 100,000 residents, while in the United States, there are 240 doctors for every 100,000 residents. But in the 12 counties that make up the Rio Grande Valley, there are only 124 doctors for every 100,000 residents, according to legislative research.

A stand-alone medical school in South Texas was authorized by legislation in 2009 and was underway before the proposal to create a new university. A prior request for state appropriations of $30 million is geared toward building the medical school. The UT System Board of Regents has committed $10 million a year for the next decade to help establish the medical school. An additional $20 million for the biennium would go towards the recruitment of a founding dean for the medical school, associate deans, department chairs, and other key faculty.

Despite his praise for the new university, Perry made no mention of the pleas for him to add tuition revenue bond authorization to the second special session now underway in Austin.

A bill that would provide tuition revenue bonds for 62 Texas higher education construction projects won a House committee’s approval, but will not go to the floor unless Perry adds the issue to his call for the special session.

As in his first special session call, Perry identified the issues to be considered as abortion restrictions, transportation funding and sentencing guidelines for 17-year-olds convicted of murder.

The emotional issue of abortion, which did not come up in the regular session, has dominated both special sessions.

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